The Band: Mayer Hawthorne
The Buzz: After years of behind-the-scenes work as a hip-hop producer, along with manning turntables under the alias DJ Haircut, Hawthorne emerges with a jaw-dropping collection of classic soul, with a pillowy falsetto that would have impressed Curtis Mayfield.
Listen If: Your torrent tracker is automatically set to track down Smokey & the Miracles outtakes
Key Track: The Four Tops-aping "Love is Alright," where Hawthorne opts out of the high notes in favor the kind of shimmying soul jam that's de rigeur at weddings -- and don't for a second think that's a bad thing.
The Band: Box Elders
The Buzz: Garage R&B band from Omaha (dwell on that for a few minutes) with a penchant for odd getups (at a recent NY show, bassist Clayton McIntyre performed in a loincloth). Box Elders are quickly gaining a reputation for both their lovably scuzzy music as well as their hyperactive onstage antics. They also know how to economize: Drummer Dave Goldberg also plays keyboards...while he's playing the drums. He apparently also has a thing for telepathy and Eazy-E.
Listen If: You're tired of waiting around for a third installment in the Nuggets series.
Key Track: The rollicking "Stay," which imagines the Flaming Groovies banging out a Supremes cover.
The Band: Speech Debelle
The Buzz: London MC and recent Mercury Prize nominee Speech Debelle spits gritty narratives in a squeaky voice, managing to sound both angry and adorable all at once. And unlike other recent UK MCs (Lady Sovereign, anyone?) Debelle is neither cut-up or a hooligan: She's a storyteller, spinning out rhymes over dusky, soulful production.
Listen If: You got excited that a new MC Lyte track leaked earlier this week.
Key Track: Appropriately, "The Key," where Debelle dishes out limber rhymes over the kind of honking brass-'n'-bass backdrop that used to turn up on Tribe Called Quest songs.